A coalition of religious, civic and political leaders marched around City Hall on Friday to keep the heat on Mayor Rahm Emanuel for “covering up” the Laquan McDonald shooting video and unleash a kitchen sink of demands:
Prohibit Chicago Police officers from shooting anyone in the back. Reopen the police contract to remove impediments to disciplining wayward officers. Appoint a special prosecutor to investigate all police shootings.
Expand the U.S. Justice Department’s civil rights investigation to include the state’s attorney’s office and the mayor’s office. Replace the Independent Police Review Authority now under new leadership with a board led by civilians. Launch an “urban reconstruction” program in South and West side neighborhoods plagued by gang violence.
The demands made one thing eminently clear: Emanuel’s emotional apology to the City Council for the “systematic breakdown” that culminated in the police shooting death of McDonald was not enough.
Not when the mayor kept the McDonald shooting video under wraps for more than a year and waited until one week after the April 7 mayoral runoff to settle the case for $5 million even before the McDonald family had filed a lawsuit. The video was released only after a judge ordered the city to do so.
“If the mayor had no role and no motive for paying $5 million as hush money, then he has nothing to worry about. If he did not suppress those tapes just to secure his election, then again he has nothing to worry about,” said the Rev. Ira Acree of the Leaders Network.
Emanuel’s apology is “meaningless” if the mayor is not “held accountable” for his actions, Acree said.
“In his tearful speech, Rahm spoke passionately about a police ‘code of silence.’ He talked about ending the blue code of silence. But he never mentioned one moment that he was a part of it for 400 days,” Acree said.
The Rev. William Crowder Jr., senior pastor of Park Manor Christian Church, branded McDonald’s death a “21st Century crucifixion” caught on a dashcam video played around the world.
It showed Police Officer Jason Van Dyke pumping 16 rounds into the body of the black teenager, many of those shots while McDonald was already writhing on the ground.
“There was a cover-up to squash that tape and to run the clock out. But we’re here today because we’re going into overtime,” Crowder said.
“There is a culture of corruption. That’s why we need a sweeping investigation into the mayor’s office, into the state’s attorney, IPRA. The whole gang. And there is a lack of financial empowerment on the West and South sides. Unemployment, under-employment. Fifty schools shut down. It’s time for a change.”
Rev. Janette Wilson of Operation PUSH demanded that Emanuel reopen the Fraternal Order of Police contract to remove roadblocks to disciplining wayward officers. Emanuel talked about that earlier this week but did nothing to push for those changes when he negotiated a new police contract before the mayoral election.
“It does not allow for adequate discipline of officers who have major infractions. There are several officers who have 50 or more complaints filed without disciplinary action. The Fraternal Order of Police is not acting as a union. It is acting as a protector of police and not a protector of the community,” Wilson said.
State Rep. Mary Flowers (D-Chicago) said she joined the City Hall protest, not just for Laquan McDonald but for all of the other “mysterious deaths” at the hands of the police.
“This is generational. This just didn’t start yesterday. That’s the reason why the hurt and the pain of this runs so deep,” Flowers said.
“So many mothers have died knowing the truth of their children’s death, but no one would believe them. This is for the voices who are not here to speak for themselves.”
Emanuel has emphatically denied keeping the tape under wraps to get past the election.
But he acknowledged this week that he should have challenged the city’s longstanding practice of withholding the shooting video to avoid compromising an ongoing criminal investigation that dragged on for 13 months until Van Dyke was charged with first-degree murder.
“By following a time-honored practice, you could clearly say we were adding to the suspicion and distrust . . . Holding that video . . . clearly built up distrust,” Emanuel said then.
“I should have given voice to the public’s growing suspicions, distrust and anger. My voice is supposed to be their voice . . . You need to have the sense of urgency of justice. While I followed the practice, I should have along the way challenged . . . a practice that was actually undermining the very value I think is essential to public safety.”